DISCLAIMER: Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.

VIOLENCE AND SEX WARNING: This story follows The Warrior Untamed which was a very dark story, and probably it is advisable that you wade through that one first. If you rather not, I have tried to incorporate explanations as I went. This has no more violence than the usual TV show, and no sex to speak of though the love between two women is there. Story Six October 1998 MythMaker

DEDICATION: This story is for Morgaine the Munificent, first and foremost, as well as all my cybersisters and friends, with love and thanks.
  The Retaming of the Warrior

By MythMaker

Scene I
'Tartarus!' This was the third morning Gabrielle woke up alone and terrified by Xena's absence. Each day her terror and wild imagination had been curbed by Xena's prompt return. This morning Gabrielle had awakened much earlier. It was still dark. The young bard dressed quickly and left the hut. She looked frantically around the central compound. The pre-dawn Amazon village was quiet. Gabrielle glanced back and her royal guards bowed to their queen. The guard Theya knew instantly by Gabrielle's agitation what she needed.

"My Queen, Xena has gone to the baths," she said to her majesty.

"Oh thank you, Theya," Gabrielle replied gratefully as she hurried off.

By the time she reached the baths she was running. She passed through the gates and stopped. The sight that met her eyes made her heart skip a beat. Knowing how depressed and quiet Xena had been these last few days since her encounter with Stephanos, Gabrielle had expected to find her warrior floating face down in the pool. Instead she witnessed the early rays of Helios spreading his rosy hues on the classical countenance of the Warrior Princess as she reclined in the hot springs. The morning was cool, steam from the waters created a shimmering view of her partner. Despite the clatter Gabrielle had made as she entered the baths, Xena did not look around. She continued to look toward the mountains. 'Goddess,  she is a beautiful woman!' the bard breathed to herself as she feasted her eyes. The fear in her pounding heart gave way to sadness as she beheld the despairing look on Xena's face.

At last she spoke to her beloved warrior. "Xena?"

Slowly the Warrior Princess looked at Gabrielle and smiled softly. "Gabrielle? Why are you up so early?" Her voice conveyed so much more to the bard than the words alone.

"I was worried, Xena. When I woke up, you were gone." She came closer and sat by the edge.  Steam rose from Xena's heated flesh, her muscles rippled as she moved her arm.

Xena smiled and put her warm, damp hand on Gabrielle's knee. "You don't need to worry here, the Amazon village is very safe."

Gabrielle gave her a dismissive smile. "Not about me silly, I was worried about you." The exasperated bard said, touching the back of Xena's hand.

Xena looked away for a moment as if gathering her thoughts. Then she turned back and looked at her bard and said, "Gabrielle, you need not worry about me. I am fine. I am not going anywhere. Why are you worrying?"

Seated now beside her warrior, Gabrielle could see the ugly healing scars on Xena's neck and wrists that had been hidden by the early morning's mist. Fatigue was evident around her eyes, and the bruises on her face, though fading, were still visible. Tears threatened as the bard struggled to think what to say. Xena could see them and she tried to head them off. "Since you are here, come in, the water is lovely." She stood up and began to untie Gabrielle's shirt. The young woman made a sound like a little hiccup and then let Xena get her ready for the soothing water.

Once in the water Xena retained the hand she had held to guide her bard into the pool. Gabrielle was comforted by the larger hand holding hers. The warmth of the water and her friend's hand dissolved the hard lump in her throat. Yet the bard was at a loss for words. Xena, as usual, was no help. Gabrielle almost felt as if Xena was enjoying the predicament of her tongue-tied friend. In fact, Xena's mind was too full of her own thoughts to wonder at the bard's silence.

Xena had done a lot of thinking since her epiphany on the cliff. The drug-induced nightmare massacre she had perpetrated on the slaver Stephanos and his men had led her to the cliff to throw herself off in a self-sacrificing effort to save Gabrielle from her savage Warrior Princess. But in her climb to destiny, Xena had encountered her own soul and redemption. She had reached the top with the realization that life was sweet and what she was giving up in Gabrielle was too hard to lose. She had cried out in her anguish, and collapsed into the arms of her bard. She had let Gabrielle into her heart, to share her grief and her horror. Her bard had held her and let her cry. Xena discovered a joy in weakness. By letting go and allowing someone else to take over she learned a little about the healing of her own soul. The Amazons let Gabrielle and Xena have a few candle marks alone. Then Eponin and Solari had climbed up and guided the pair down. In the intervening half moon, Gabrielle had worked to soothe the savage warrior's heart, while Frieda and Ama, the healers, had worked to bring the warrior back to health. They tried to purge from Xena's system the drugs introduced by the despicable slave merchant, Stephanos.

Xena's mind was clearer now, and the attacks of rebounding drug-induced violence were fewer. Not more than two in the last five days. She was learning to trust herself again. Trust herself enough now to laugh with her bard. Still holding Gabrielle's hand, she drew the young woman closer. Gabrielle may have been the first to initiate intimacy with her warrior, but now it was Xena drawing her into an embrace. The bard trembled, a little fear mixed in with her desire for closeness. She knew her warrior was not always herself, and when she was not, she was a wild animal, a savage. It was both exciting and terrifying. Who was holding her close now?

"Gabrielle, are you afraid of me this morning?" asked the Warrior Princess, ducking her head to see into Gabrielle's eyes.

The mere mention of the possibility clutched at her heart and yet Gabrielle was quick to deny it. "Don't be silly, why would I be afraid of you, Xena?"

"Maybe because I might be tempted to do this!" the teasing warrior said as she began to tickle the naked bard. Soon the quiet dawn of the Amazon village was shattered with the screams and giggles of the Amazon queen and her partner.

The pink rays spread throughout the land chasing away the grays of night even as the royal laughter competed with the trills and calls of early morning birds. Eponin woke up with a smile on her face and said, "Hippolyta's Hilarity, that sounds good." The joy in the heard laughter prompted her to pull her bed partner closer and nuzzle the hair at the base of her neck as they began a lovely morning ritual of their own.
  Scene II

Some good food and sleep soon had Xena physically fit again, only her mind and heart needed healing now. Rather than let Xena mope around with her depression and internal conflict, Eponin inveigled the Warrior Princess to help in training the young warriors. In the past Xena had welcomed challengers and whipped everyone but an older warrior named Phaedra who had nearly killed Xena with the double-headed ax when Xena had been distracted by Gabrielle. More recently Xena had knocked Phaedra out as the Amazon had sought to track Xena during her self-destructive flight to the cliffs. Seeing Xena on the practice fields Phaedra decided to challenge Xena again and retake lost ground, and her honor.

"Xena, why don't we show these young whelps how real warriors do battle," Phaedra yelled out to the Warrior Princess.

Xena looked up from showing a young woman the most effective way to hold her staff. She narrowed her eyes and the blue depths grew colder. The trainee observed Xena's icy countenance and then glanced in Phaedra's direction. She stepped back and cleared the way for the older women. "Let me borrow your staff, Lea," Xena asked softly. Lea offered it to her hero. She did not like Phaedra who was a swaggering, old warrior, always strutting before the young trainees, bragging about her prowess. Xena removed her other weapons, as did Phaedra who also borrowed a staff. Then the two women circled warily.

Xena waited and assessed Phaedra's demeanor, she remembered this woman liked to win at any cost. The shorter, stocky woman used her added weight and the obvious strength of her broad shoulders to put lethal punch behind her staff. She swung viciously, yet with skill, at Xena's head. The Warrior Princess ducked and parried. The tone had been set for the battle. The two woman fought skillfully, demonstrating the power and effectiveness of the staff as a weapon. It was a useful lesson for the young warriors. Then Phaedra's anger made her lose control. Xena and Phaedra had been sparring swiftly, countering each other's moves. Phaedra became increasingly frustrated when she could not gain the upper hand. She slipped, and as she rebounded to her feet in a flip, she threw a handful of dirt in Xena's eyes. As the younger woman shook her head to clear her eyesight, Phaedra plunged her staff into Xena's gut followed by a hard drive to her skull. Xena fell to her knees. With one hand on the ground supporting her weight, the other reached up and felt the back of her head. Her hand came away streaked with blood. She looked at her hand for a moment and suddenly surged to her feet. She became a demon, swinging her staff and fighting furiously with the finally scared Phaedra. Xena had been merely playing before, now she was out for blood. The trainees witnessed a real battle between warriors then. It was a sight they would never forget.

The cheers and cries of the young Amazons drew a crowd, including Gabrielle and Eponin. The last two knew immediately that this was serious. Xena never lost control, never allowed anger on the sparring field. This was the Xena Stephanos had created, this was Xena on drugs. She was experiencing another rebound, a spike of deadly nightshade in her blood. "Hades Hatred! Gabrielle, Phaedra is going to die if we don't stop this!"

Eponin turned to Delia who had just come up beside her. "Delia, alert Frieda and bring me a bucket of water, hurry!" Eponin pushed through the crowd, followed closely by her queen. "Gabrielle, stay back, please," said the worried warrior.

Eponin stepped into the sparing square and shouted, "Phaedra, back off!  Ease up, you are fighting more than Xena now. She has been under the influence of drugs." The older warrior refused to surrender her honor this way. Eponin went on, "She is experiencing a flashback. She is going to kill you. Look at her eyes." Finally Phaedra really looked at Xena for the first time. It was not easy to do, ducking and countering the deadly moves of the younger warrior as Phaedra tried to get away. She saw Eponin was telling her the truth but could see no way out of the battle.

"XENA!" Yelled Eponin. "Stop! You are fighting a friend." Eponin was closer to the battle now, and Xena turned and swung at Eponin, catching the warrior on the shoulder. Eponin spun around and crashed into the watching trainees.
Lea and her friend Sara helped Eponin to her feet. Eponin called on all of the trainees to pick up their staffs and surround Xena. At her command they began thrusting with their weapons and distracting the Warrior Princess, allowing Phaedra to escape. The exhausted older warrior fell to the ground outside of the crowd. Frieda came up with Delia, looked briefly at Phaedra and then dismissed her to see how Xena fared. Eponin had instructed the young Amazons to use their staffs like long poles to keep Xena at bay, not to risk a close encounter. Their number and weapons kept the wild warrior contained. When Frieda joined Gabrielle they shared the sight of the bard's warrior surrounded by a pack of trainees, like wolves might surround a doe. But in this case it was a wolf surrounded by a herd of deer.

Phaedra was safe, but the savage beast still raged in Xena's breast. Gabrielle tried talking to Xena, tried soothing her with her voice. "It's no use, Gabrielle," said Eponin as she came to her queen's side. "Peitho's Prattle! Gabrielle, she can't hear us." So saying Eponin grabbed the bucket of water from Delia and doused the Warrior Princess full in the face, hoping to shock her back to awareness. If that didn't work, she was prepared to use the bucket to render Xena unconscious.
Despite Eponin's efforts to keep her back, Gabrielle ran to her warrior. Even so, Eponin raised her staff and prepared to attack if Xena was not now calmed. They all watched anxiously as the dripping warrior shook her head and wiped her eyes. She dropped her weapon and looked around as if in a daze. She found herself surrounded by hostile Amazon warriors. When she spied her bard, she asked in a confused voice, "Gabrielle? What's happening?"
"Step back and lower your weapons, please." Gabrielle commanded her subjects. She took Xena's hand and guided her to a viewing bench. Frieda joined them and looked into Xena's eyes as she took her pulse.
"I've had another attack, haven't I?" Xena asked. "Did I hurt anyone? Oh, wait, Phaedra. Did I hurt her?" The Warrior Princess looked around for her opponent among the dispersing young warriors.
"Only her pride. Hydra's Headaches, Xena, Phaedra deserved it." Eponin chimed in, handing Xena a rag. "Sorry about the bath."
"No, Eponin, no one should have to face a mad warrior on the sparring field." The Warrior Princess said sadly as she swept the wet hair out of her face and began drying herself.
Gabrielle rushed to her defense. "Xena, you are not a mad warrior. You are just sometimes temporarily out of control due to the drugs which are slow to leave your blood." She put her hand on Xena's back and rubbed it.
Xena smiled wanly at her bard. "Yes, out of control," she echoed.
Gabrielle frowned and tried to assuage her noble warrior. "Xena, don't let this one incident fuel your depression. You are coming out of this soon."
Xena exploded in a loud guffaw, "One incident? Gabrielle, wake up! I have killed a handful of men under the influence of this drug. No, not merely killed them but butchered and beheaded them. I took out four Amazons, attacked you and Ephiny, and I don't even know what else I have done. Sorry, Gab, this is not just one incident, and it is taking too long to regain my equilibrium. I am leaving." She stood up and began to walk off before Gabrielle grabbed her arm to slow her down.
"Xena! What do you mean you are leaving? We can help you. Where are you going? What about me?" It all came out in a worried rush.
The warrior halted and swung to face her bard. She took a deep breath and calmed herself before speaking. Xena took Gabrielle's hands in her own and spoke softly to her bard. "Gabrielle, my love, I am not angry or despairing. I am thinking clearly right now. While I can, I want to get away from you all so I don't hurt anyone. I can't take more on my conscience right now." Xena shook her head as Gabrielle opened her mouth to speak, "No, don't interrupt," she said as she put her arm around her friend and tried to show with this act of affection that she was fine and sane. She continued, "I need to be alone while my body works through the drugs. I plan to go to Mount Nestus and climb the cliffs, run the trails, and try to rush these drugs through my blood. If you come I might hurt you. I also need some time to think."
By now they were alone on the practice field save Eponin. Frieda had decided the warrior was fine and in good hands. She and the young warriors had gone about their business. Phaedra had slunk off earlier. Eponin could not quite reconcile herself to Gabrielle being safe with her warrior, so she had lingered. The bard turned to Eponin and gave her a pleading look. Eponin would do anything for her queen, and wondered what she required. Gabrielle held out her hand to the Amazon and drew her closer when Eponin's hand clasped hers. She looked at the two warriors and then spoke, "I understand, truly, I do. I wish you felt I was able to help you. However, I see you won't trust me for that. I will allow you to go, but I need you to let Eponin come to keep and eye on you. To be sure you are well." With that the bard turned to Eponin and asked with her eloquent eyes if Eponin would. Eponin's wary eyes were very wide, wondering if she could handle Xena alone. Still, this was her queen's request, she would do it.
Xena watched the alarm come and go on the warrior's face as Eponin realized what Gabrielle was asking. Eponin gathered her courage to provide her services for her queen.

"Melpomene's Memories, Gabrielle, I will guard Xena with my life."

Xena smiled inwardly and raised her left eyebrow at the Amazon warrior. Eponin frowned and stood straighter. Xena burst out laughing. Then stopped when she saw Eponin's face flush red.
"I am sorry, Ep, but your face was priceless." The warrior then turned to her bard, "Gabrielle, how about this," Xena compromised, "Eponin can come with me till I set up camp. She can find her own spot, away from mine and she can watch from a distance and check in once a day, all right? That way, she won't be close enough for me to damage, but she will be nearby if I get sick or fall off the cliff." At this last comment, the bard's face registered extreme alarm. Xena forestalled her, "Not that I will."
"Xena, when will you come home?" Gabrielle asked plaintively. Her face the very picture of a wistful woman about to be left at home. Xena gathered her into a hug and looked down at her friend.
The Warrior Princess smiled, beaming for her bard. "Gabrielle, just as soon as I feel I am myself, and no longer likely to succumb to residual drugs in my blood. Say a half moon or more."
 "Oh, Xena, that is too long," Gabrielle said as she buried her face in Xena's chest. She pulled back and looked up at her warrior, "How about a visit in the middle? Let Solari and me come see how you are doing in a quarter moon."
Xena smiled and nodded, almost absently, her mind already climbing her way to the fresh mountain air that would clear her head.
  Scene III

Though she had planned to follow Xena at a distance Eponin was struggling just to keep her in sight. 'Trails to Tartarus!' The Warrior Princess was really pushing herself to reach the plateau before sunset. They had begun the day with tearful goodbyes. 'Ares' Affectations!' They were not going to war, yet their ladies hugged them each as if they were compressing flowers for their memory books.

For many leagues after they left Eponin turned over Gabrielle's words in her mind, ruminating on them like a hungry deer. "Xena, I know you feel you have to exercise the drugs from your system, but I know there is more going on in your mind than you are admitting," said the Queen. "When you are ready, you and I will exorcise your demons together. You need me, my warrior, you are too hard on yourself. You need me to show you who you really are." Then she had reached up, drew Xena down to her and kissed her softly on the mouth. Xena smiled sadly at her bard, picked her up in a warrior's embrace and said her goodbye wordlessly.

'Who is Xena? What is she?' Eponin chewed over these questions slowly as she hurried after the pressing warrior woman. Eponin had seen the Warrior Princess fight bravely to the death, risking her life for those weaker than she. She had seen her brutally wipe out an army of thugs, laughing as she slew them. She had seen Xena build a house, raising the roof beams on her own, and she had seen Xena cry over a flower. There were so many faces of Xena, and seemingly each of them a mask. She was the most enigmatic and powerful woman Eponin had ever known. She wished she could be privy to the exorcism Gabrielle planned.

As the sun slipped behind the horizon, Xena started a fire in her camp. Her fatigued follower collapsed half a chain from her on the path. Xena set a snare and removed her armor. She sat by her fire sharpening her sword and watching Eponin. Xena felt good. The exercise had cleared her head and pumped her circulation. She was pleasantly tired, but not wiped out as her friend seemed to be. The snap of her snare called her to begin preparing her dinner. As the succulent smells of roasting rabbit wafted down the path Eponin sat up and looked at Xena's camp, a welcome sight to the weary warrior. The Warrior Princess had been watching, she beckoned. Ep climbed painfully to her feet, picked up her pack, flung it over her shoulder, and came gladly into Xena's camp.

"Only tonight may you join me," Xena said. "I am too tired and yet I feel good, you should be safe tonight. Besides, Gabrielle would not like it if I let one of her warrior waste away on the path."

"Thanks, Xena. Hasty Hermes! I hate to admit how ragged you ran me."

"Eponin, you have gotten very good at creating those expressions but you don't need to use them every time you speak. Remember we figured this out to deal with stress."

"Griffin's Grief, Xena, do you think this is easy for me?" Eponin spurted.

Xena looked at her in surprise. "Eponin, what are you stressed about? Do you think I am going to attack you?"

"No, Xena, I am worried I won't be able to protect you. I am worried I might let Gabrielle down. And ..." The Amazon could not go on, she was about to admit her feelings and knew this was a bad idea.

"And what?" The Warrior Princess watched as Eponin struggled to find words, her vivid blue eyes met the hazel ones of the Amazon warrior in question.

Eponin became tongue-tied under the gaze of those eyes. 'Goddess, Xena is unfairly beautiful and vital.' Eponin respected Xena, truly liked the warrior and was very much in awe of her. It was a difficult feeling for a warrior of Eponin's mettle and ego. She found being this close to Xena excitingly stressful.

"Ep?" asked her queen's warrior, "what else?" Xena was enjoying this. Eponin was a warrior Xena trusted but found very entertaining in her idiosyncrasies. She loved to tease this Amazon.

"Trivia's Trails! Xena, isn't that rabbit done yet?" Eponin said in an effort to change the subject.
  Scene IV

Xena was gone when Eponin stuck her bleary face out of her blanket. Helios had hardly hailed the day. Eponin groaned and climbed out of her bedroll. She stood up and looked around. Xena's pack was still there and water was kept hot over the camp fire. Xena had even left her breakfast, a nesting of berries on a large leaf lay next to a clean mug. The Amazon shook her head and smiled at Xena's thoughtfulness. Eponin bet herself it was Gabrielle's influence. She enjoyed the offering and then moved off to set up her own campsite. When she was done, she looked for the Warrior Princess.

Over the next several days the warriors developed a pattern. Eponin tried to match her own rising and setting to the other warrior's, the better to protect her. Like a shadow, the Amazon would echo Xena's morning stretches and weapon exercises. While Eponin was only doing what she might at home to remain fit and ready for battle, Xena was battling an insidious challenger, herself under the influence of deadly nightshade. Xena fought hard and long. After the warm ups, Xena would run about two leagues down the mountain and then back up without stopping. Some days she did it twice. The first day Eponin jogged after her. By the third day she knew what the warrior had in mind, therefore she found herself a high ridge that would allow her a view of the trail. Eponin at last rationalized that her demons did not need exorcising, she took it a little easier. After her morning run Xena would bathe in the icy pond formed by the mountain stream that ran near the campsite the warrior had so cleverly chosen. Finally Xena gave herself a respite while she ate. She did not eat again till nightfall.

The morning routine was fixed, but the afternoons varied. Some days Xena climbed the cliffs, others she relentlessly worked her body hard with a staff, moving through a myriad of exercises and stances, like a deadly dance with a partner of slim oak. Those days found the Warrior Princess dragging herself to her evening rest, sometimes without fixing a meal. This bothered Eponin who wanted to bring her sustenance but respected the warrior too much to approach without invitation.

One foul evening she did intrude. It had been one of those afternoons. Xena had pounded trees and imaginary foes into the ground for nigh unto five candle marks, screaming her battle cry until she was hoarse. Eponin had watched both her charge and the ominous blackening of the sky. It did not take a diviner to see a storm was coming. The Amazon built a lean-to shelter large enough for two. Xena was too driven to notice the weather. Large drops began falling and still the Warrior Princess fought on. Then the thunder boomed ever nearer. Eponin was about to go grab the warrior, wary of the large tree she stood beside, when suddenly that very tree was split by a fork of lightening. The flash was incredible and Xena disappeared into the brilliant blast. Eponin, less than half a chain from the Warrior Princess, felt the tremendous power and was temporarily deafened by the thunderclap as she was driven to her knees by the force. When she regained her eyesight and hearing, she looked frantically for Xena, calling as she searched the toppled tree's leafy maze. "Cybele's Cymbals, Xena! Where are you? Please answer me."

Her pleas rewarded her with a groan and a hand reaching out of the green morass the tree had become. Eponin followed the hand down to find the waylaid warrior. Together they shifted the part of the tree pinning her to the ground. Tired, wet, and bruised when she emerged, Xena allowed Eponin to draw her to shelter. Once there she gratefully accepted a spare blanket, stripped down, and wrapped herself in it. Eponin observed the wasted warrior as she dried and cocooned herself in her own blanket. "Xena, your shoulder looks pretty sore, you have a big bruise forming there, do you have some lineament or something I can put on it?"

Xena peeked out of her blanket and answered, "Thanks Ep, I do and that would help a lot." She told the Amazon where it was and almost whimpered as Eponin began soothing the paste into her shoulder. "Goddess, that feels better." She breathed huskily. Her voice sent shivers down Eponin's spine. She almost drew her hand back in alarm at the feelings it created in her chest and groin. Xena's warm skin was so soft, her shoulders so attractive, that Eponin knew she must stop soon. She pulled the blanket up and said, "That's it, now get some sleep. Or do you want some food?" The Warrior Princess never replied, having fallen asleep almost immediately.

Eponin tried to take her mind off the woman lying so close by, she munched on an apple and some cheese as she sat and thought. Surely Xena must have cleared the drugs from her system by now. Eponin had been watching her queen's beloved warrior very carefully. She had seen some activity that could have been driven by the drugs, but equally anger could have been the cause of the frenzied flailing at trees and imaginary foes. Once, Xena had fallen to her knees and flung up her hands to cover her face and had wept hard. Eponin had come to within two body lengths of the warrior when Xena suddenly looked up and gave the Amazon such a hard look Eponin had retreated.

Eponin sat and guarded her friend, thinking of more cheerful times and dreaming of impossible moments. Her hands felt tingly, she wondered if it was the after effects of touching the Warrior Princess or that strange lineament. She decided to wash her hands. She rose and went to the stream to scrub the feeling off. She came back and curled into her blankets facing the sleeping Xena. Then it began.

Xena moaned, twice, then she screamed. She sat up abruptly, propelled by a nightmare reminder of her night caged in a storm such as this. Eponin rose and grabbed Xena's shoulders preparing to calm her. Instead the Warrior Princess flung Eponin to her back, fighting the Amazon as if driven to eradicate a monster. Eponin fought for her life. Normally Xena could have defeated Eponin, though with concerted effort. Now she was hampered by her exhaustion. They rolled and wrestled, trading superiority back and forth till both lay together too exhausted to threaten or defend. They fell asleep.

The storms of the night moved on over the mountain. The warmth and comfort of their shared blankets and the shade of their shelter shielded them from the dawn, so they slept on, these two tired warriors. It was a lovely sight to behold, Xena's sculpted face and the right side of her chest framed by the strong back and luxurious mahogany hair of the Amazon warrior draped over her. The two lighted by a pastel green from the sun filtering through the leafy bower. It was a sight to delight an artist, but not a bard. Certainly not this bard. Solari and Gabrielle, having cheerfully climbed since dawn to visit their friends were greeted by this picture of two beautiful woman sleeping naked in each other's arms. The Amazon Queen exploded in a manner reminiscent of the lightening bolt that had begun this farce.
  Scene V

"Aaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrghhhhhhh! Xena! Eponin!" Wailed the Amazon Queen. Her face contorted with anger. Yes, anger, not sadness, not hurt, but hot fury. Solari stood next to her queen, her mouth open. Gabrielle ran forward and grabbed Eponin's shoulder to drag her off the Warrior Princess. The naked warriors woke in alarm, unsure from whence this banshee sprang. The appalled standing Amazon, Solari, saw the looks of horror and surprise that Eponin and Xena exchanged. They seemed to be as surprised as the unexpected visitors to see their state of undress and togetherness. Eponin jumped up and retrieved her blanket. Xena found her own to cover her bruised body. Solari noticed the marks of a fight on both warriors. She also noticed that Xena had lost weight and her muscles were beautifully defined.This was not as Gabrielle thought. Gabrielle was too incensed to see. She pummeled the chest of her now standing warrior. Xena took it for a few moments then captured her bards flailing fists.

"Gabrielle, what do you think happened?" The Warrior Princess asked, forcing the bard to look up into her earnest eyes by putting those fists under her chin and raising that furious face. "Gab?"

Gabrielle pulled her hands free and stepped back angrily. But when she looked at Xena, her warrior showed no signs of shame, she looked, if anything, puzzled. Gabrielle turned to Eponin who looked embarrassed but not ashamed. The bard calmed down as her fury abated in the face of her uncertainty. "But... what am I expected to think, finding you lying naked together?"

Xena extinguished a flicker of emotion from her face. Still, Gabrielle caught it.  The Warrior Princess had been sure Gabrielle trusted her, she thought they had come to an understanding. That she could have been so wrong twisted a fist in her gut. She approached the subject slowly, obliquely. "I would hope you might think we got soaking wet in the storm last night, or you might notice that downed tree and wonder if we had been hurt."

"Oh goddess, Xena, were you?" Gabrielle advanced to touch the bruised shoulder peeking out from the blanket. Xena retreated.

"Not much, thanks to Eponin. She pulled me out from beneath the tree after it had been hit by lightening. Your Amazon warrior has done a fine job of looking after me. I repaid Eponin by attacking her in another drugged haze, and we fought to exhaustion. We fell asleep as you saw us." Xena turned to Eponin, "Ep, I'm sorry, are you all right?"

She stepped away from the bard and went to the Amazon warrior. The two warriors looked at each other. A measure of embarrassment, of sadness, maybe of opportunities lost was reflected in their eyes. "I am fine, Xena, don't worry, I understand what happened. I could see you were not yourself," Eponin said. Xena reached up and turned the Amazon's face to examine a scratch on her jaw. Eponin trembled at her touch. Xena looked into her eyes at that. Eponin turned away from that intense scrutiny, not ready to answer her. Then Xena peeled the blanket away discretely and examined Eponin's many bruises. She looked up again to see Eponin blushing. She closed the blanket and hugged the warrior. The startled Eponin hugged Xena back, smiling in relief.

"Still, I am sorry Ep," said the Warrior Princess. "Let me clean up those scrapes."

"Sure, Xena. Ladon's Laughter!  I have not had such a good wrestle in a long time," the Amazon said to lighten the mood. Xena and Eponin exchanged grins. Solari and Gabrielle shrugged at each other.

Xena turned to her bard and said, "Gabrielle, it was a matter of trust." She took Eponin's hand and drew the Amazon down to the pool to bathe and attend her wounds. Gabrielle looked at Solari who followed the two warriors.

The bard sat on the abandoned bedroll and thought. 'Goddess, I have wounded her and lost all their respect. But what was I to think? That's it, I did not think, I only saw my love in the arms of another, I could not be expected to think. What would Xena have done if the situation had been reversed? Hera help me, I have done great damage to our relationship again.' All Gabrielle's eager energy, expended to get here to see her mighty warrior now dissipated and she lay back and closed her eyes. A lone tear wended its way down her cheek.
  Scene VI

That afternoon the woman sat in a circle around the fire that had cooked their midday meal. Sated, the four discussed the future.

"Xena, can you come home now?" asked Gabrielle hopefully.

"Home? Gabrielle, where is that for you?" the Warrior Princess asked.

Gabrielle was wounded by that question, but determined not to show it. She felt the need to earn her way back into Xena's trust. "Wherever you are, Xena, you know that. At this point I meant back to the Amazon Village." Xena had been watching her bard carefully, judging her reactions. She caught that wince and knew Gabrielle was fighting to maintain her facade of normalcy. The two Amazons watched the interplay between their friends, wondering which woman would gain the upper hand. At the moment they would have both bet on Xena, though usually their money was on Gabrielle. Their queen was obviously in the wrong and struggling.

"Before last night I might have said I was ready, but I was proven wrong when I attacked Eponin. I am not ready, not for the company of civilized folks. I am not saying I think your Amazons are civilized, but they beat me at that right now." Solari smirked at the comment.

"But you feel you are close, right, Xena?" Gabrielle pressed.

"Gabrielle, I am beginning to wonder if I will ever regain my control. Last night's attack was triggered by the storm and my memory of being caged by Stephanos. I can picture it even now. I was a beast, he made me feel like an animal. I might never regain my humanity. I am seriously considering giving up my sword." The Warrior princess looked down at her hands as she said this, almost as if checking for blood, or signs of beastly claws.

"Xena, you can't be serious. Frieda said it was only a matter of time."

"Gab, Frieda has never seen a warrior come out of this drugged state because they all died. She does not know what she is talking about. I might always be liable to turn savage at any moment. Before this happened I was unpredictable, and now I am worse. I wish I could make you understand how I feel. Gabrielle, I am terrified I might hurt you or worse."

"But Xena,..." Gabrielle began.

"Gabrielle, don't you understand," the warrior stood up, her face contorted and tears brightening her eyes, "I hate being out of control. I can't stand myself!" She walked off into the woods.

Gabrielle had fallen back in reaction as the warrior lunged to her feet. Now she looked at Solari and Eponin for help. They both shrugged.

Finally Eponin spoke, "Tyche's Turnabout, Gabrielle! I can understand her fears. You know Xena is a very controlled person. Galloping Goddesses, Gab, she barely knows how to cope. She is out of control and it terrifies her. Especially her, and especially about you. You have to realize that."

"But what can I do?" the bard pleaded.

"I think all you can do is understand and accede to her wishes. Give her that measure of control at least."

Gabrielle nodded in agreement and got up to follow Xena into the woods. She did not have to go far. She found her warrior smashing her fists against a tree. The blood was running down her arms. Gabrielle was about to run and stop her warrior when Xena turned enough for the bard to view her anguished countenance. The tears were coursing down, her beautiful face ugly in a way Gabrielle had never seen. Grief and fury warred for domination in her warrior. Gabrielle curbed her need to hold Xena, to soothe her. She realized suddenly that Xena needed to be alone, sometimes comfort is not the answer. Sometimes we need to face our demons alone, especially when they are us. She turned and went quietly back to the waiting Amazons.

"Malevolent Moira, Gabrielle, what happened? Your face is white." Eponin stood up when her queen reentered the clearing.

Gabrielle looked at Eponin in sadness. "Eponin, you were right, she needs time alone. I wish I knew what to do to help her."

"Just give her time, Gabrielle." Eponin answered softly, putting her hand on her queen's trembling arm. The bard looked at the tall Amazon and fell into her arms. Eponin hugged her tightly, wishing she could take away her sorrow. She looked across the campfire to Solari, sharing  a moment of pain for their queen.

Gabrielle pulled out of the Amazon's comforting embrace and said, "Thank you Eponin, you are a good friend. Please continue watching over her. I apologize for my unfortunate words when we arrived. I know better."

"My queen, had forgiveness been necessary you would have had mine. If Xena was my warrior I would guard her fiercely as well. But Gabrielle, your heart is safe with her, she would never betray you."

"I know that Eponin, and you would never betray me either. Please forgive me anyway. It will make me feel better for being so stupid and insulting."

"Of course, my queen," she said and bowed. This gave Gabrielle a moment to smile.
  Scene VII

By the time Xena returned to the campfire it was too late for Gabrielle and Solari to make it back to the Amazon village. They had spent the afternoon giving Eponin news of home.  Xena walked into this cheerful conversation. Gabrielle smiled up at her and then her eyes dipped to Xena's hands. The Warrior Princess had a brace of rabbits clutched in one bruised fist. The blood had been washed away but the knuckles were purpled and skinned. Xena caught her bard's glance and knew she would have to explain her hands.  She quirked an eyebrow at her soulmate and shrugged. "These were tough beasts, they fought back." The gathered Amazons laughed and Gabrielle let her warrior get by with this.

Much later Eponin and Solari retired to Eponin's campsite. Gabrielle had tried to keep the evening lighthearted, telling new tales and a few warrior jokes she had picked up in the village. Xena was surprised at their bawdiness. Not that the Amazons would have such jokes, but that her seemingly innocent bard would repeat them. At last the two women were in their bedroll and quiet descended. As usual, Gabrielle was in Xena's arms, her head resting on Xena's shoulder as they looked at the sky together. The moon was full and Gabrielle was remarking on the rabbit's image on the moon's surface. "I think it looks like the one you defeated tonight, Xena," she said as she picked up one swollen hand, and tenderly kissed the knuckles. "I am sorry, Xena, please forgive me for being so foolish and jealous when we arrived."

"I understood immediately, Gabrielle, it did not look good, but I was hurt that you could think that of us." Xena answered softly, her mellifluous voice stroking Gabrielle's heart.

"I did not think, Xena, I reacted. My mind knows but my body, well my body knows that it wants to be the only one lying with you." Gabrielle said, trying to give a cadence to her voice that would set off the kind of vibrations that Xena's voice began in her own body. It must have worked, for the warrior answered that sweet chord and the symphony began.

When they at last lay breathless and still humming, Gabrielle ventured one more item she wanted to address before sleep. "Xena?"

"Yes, my love?"

"I will be leaving in the morning with Solari. You need some more time, but I will be back in a quarter moon to relieve Eponin. I don't care if you think you are ready then, I need some time with you too. I am the one you need to complete your healing."

"I will look forward to that, Gabrielle," she said, surprising the bard with her acquiescence.
  Scene VIII

Xena stood watching Gabrielle and Solari until they disappeared around the bend. Then she turned to Eponin. Eponin was startled by the intensity of that look. She saw that Xena had come to some decision. The Warrior Princess nodded to herself and walked over to the Amazon.

"Eponin, I am very bored with all this tireless exercise, but I need to keep active, to try and burn up as much of this drug as I can. "

"Yes, Xena, it does get tiresome, even for me just watching, what do you want to do? Are you ready to let me spar with you?" She asked hopefully.

Xena smiled largely, then said, "Not quite, I am still a risk to you Eponin, I don't want to kill you if I go over the edge again. But I have an idea if you are willing."

"Anything, Xena," Eponin said without really thinking.

"Ep, don't be so willing, aren't you even a little afraid?" she asked quirking her mouth and raising an eyebrow.

"Oh, Hot Hephaestus! Xena I, um, forgot. But never mind, I am willing to risk it." She blushed.

"Well I am not willing to risk you without some safeguards." Xena came right up to Eponin and gently touched the Amazon's neck, almost a caress. Eponin's blush deepened.

"Uh, Xena, what are you doing?" She asked.

Xena smiled again and took Eponin's hand and spoke, looking deeply into the Amazon's eyes, "Eponin, I am going to tell you a secret. I want you to know that your friendship means a lot to me and I trust you with my life."

Eponin was getting very nervous. This was a Xena she did not know. Eponin wanted to both retreat and advance. She was not sure what Xena was up to, and all she could think of was her promise to Gabrielle, and her trust. Xena could see that Eponin was thinking of fleeing so she put a hand on the Amazon's shoulder to hold her in place. "Where are you going, Ep? I am going to show you how to defeat me."


She was still holding Eponin's hand. She raised it and guided it to her neck. "Here, do you feel that pulse in my neck?" she said as she lay the Amazon's fingers on her carotid artery. The terrified Amazon could only feel her own blood pounding in response to Xena's closeness. Then she swallowed and concentrated. There, she felt it, the gentle throbbing that was Xena's life's blood.

She smiled and said, "yes I feel it." Xena laughed and Eponin felt that too.

"Okay, Ep, now use your other hand to find the one on this side of my neck," she said as she pointed. Gingerly Eponin did as she was told. Now she had both her hands on Xena's strong neck, feeling for the surge of blood. Xena's throat still bore the scars of the tortuous collar of captivity. Not wishing to hurt her, the Amazon gingerly searched for the second pulse as Xena raised her own hands to Eponin's neck, gently marking the two points. "Found it yet?" Eponin nodded in reply to the Warrior Princess' question. "Good, now this is not going to hurt," she said as she suddenly drew her hands away and then thrust them forward sharply against Eponin's neck. The Amazon crumpled instantly.

In a quarter candle mark Eponin regained consciousness to find her head in Xena's lap. Xena smiled down at her. "Are you finished napping?"

"Succumb to Sirens! Xena, what did you do to me?"

"I was showing you how to render someone unconscious quickly, and, well, almost painlessly." Eponin sat up with Xena's help. She fingered her neck and looked at Xena in awe. Xena smiled again and stood up. "Okay, now you do that to me."

"Moping Mopsus, Xena! I don't think I can, I mean what if I get you in the wrong place, won't I kill you?" Eponin was retreating again.

"I told you I trust you, Ep, come on, it is easy. You need to show me you can do it before we fight." She took Ep's hands and place them against her neck in the right spots. "Come on, just pull back and thrust forward at these two points."

"Suffering Sisyphus, ..." began Eponin.

"Just do it now!" ordered the Warrior Princess. Eponin jumped but did as she was told. Her aim was unerring, Xena slipped bonelessly to the ground. The Amazon fell to her knees in alarm.

Then she smiled to herself, "Tartarus! I did it." She said ecstatically, then with horror "Oh goddess! I just knocked out Xena!" Then with relief she said, "but she asked me to." Eponin sat with Xena's dark head on her lap in wonderment, smiling and shaking and laughing to herself. Finally she got over her thrill and just looked at the Warrior Princess. She admired the beauty of the woman, her face, and yes, her muscular body. As used to seeing fitness and pulchritude in women as Eponin was, surrounded by Amazons, none compared to Xena. She stroked Xena's rich hair reverently, waiting for her to wake. She was surprised at how soft it felt. Then Xena opened her eyes. The radiant blue mesmerized the Amazon, then the smile dazzled her.

"Good, now are you ready to fight?" Xena sat up and turned to face Eponin. She sat cross-legged in front of the Amazon. "I figure if we wrestle or do some unarmed combat I can get a work out and you can use that if I suddenly go into a drugged fit. What do you think?" She asked eagerly.

"Frantic Furies, Xena, I am ready if you are," She laughed with Xena, thinking they were both crazy. Xena stood up pulling Eponin with her.  She began divesting herself of her armor and weapons. She even took off her boots. When she was clad in just her leather shift she turned to face Eponin. Meanwhile the Amazon had removed her weapons and bracers. Finally the two faced off, the fight began.

After that Xena and Eponin engaged in unarmed combat every morning, trading minor injuries and successes. By the third day Eponin was getting more comfortable with Xena's moves and began trying some new countermoves to wrest victory from the Warrior Princess. Xena was laughing at Eponin after a particularly unsuccessful attempt, which infuriated the Amazon more than always losing. She struck out in anger and opened a cut over Xena's eye. The Warrior Princess was accustomed to injury but the flow of blood in her eye, diluted by sweat, presented a red haze to her eyesight that suddenly swept her back in time to that clearing where she was destroying the hapless thugs of the slaver Stephanos. Eponin did not realize she was facing anything other than a more aggressive Xena until she found herself flat on her back with Xena's bloody strong hands around her neck and Xena muttering words which made no sense to Eponin until two words rang out clearly, terrifying the poor Amazon, "Die, Stephanos!" Eponin moved swiftly, she thrust her steepled hands between Xena's and burst them apart, effectively releasing her neck from the warrior's death grip. Then her hands dove back between them and she sharply hit the two pressure points on Xena's neck the Warrior Princess had so thoughtfully taught the Amazon. Xena collapsed.

Eponin lay there for a few moments to catch her breath and still her wildly beating heart. In her temporary hysteria she laughed. She imagined Gabrielle walking into the campsite and once more finding Xena in her arms. Then she sobered and tried to sit up with the dead weight of the warrior across her chest and hips. At last she moved Xena off herself and sat up. She scrambled to her knees and turned Xena over onto her back. She worried that Xena looked a little pale. She wiped the blood out of her eyes and noticed that Xena's nose was bleeding. 'Tartarus, did that happen during our fight or did I hit her in the wrong place?' Thought the anxious Amazon. She had been leery of using Xena's pressure points, and now Xena looked just like one of those unfortunates she told would die in a moment if he did not tell her what she wanted to know. "Hades Help Me! I've killed her!" Eponin wailed beseechingly at the sky. She took the Warrior Princess into her arms and began rocking and crying,
  Scene IX

Gabrielle had decided she could wait no longer, she had Solari and Frieda come with her to declare Xena safe enough for just Gabrielle's guardianship. And, goddess help her, once again Gabrielle's cheerful daydreams of a warm reuniting were dashed as they came upon Eponin weeping and cradling Xena's lifeless body. The three rushed forward at the sight. Solari hustled Eponin away and comforted the unfortunate woman. Frieda examined Xena as Gabrielle took Eponin's place supporting Xena in her arms.

"Gabrielle, she is unconscious, not much more." Frieda shared after a careful examination and two tiny stitches to close the cut over Xena's eye.

"But Frieda, what was Eponin carrying on about?" Gabrielle asked in bewilderment.

"I think we need to ask her what has been happening."

Half a candle mark later the story was told. Solari was excited to learn the move, but Eponin declared, "No, I am not going to show you and I am never using it again. I don't care what you say Frieda, she should be awake by now."

"I am sure she will wake up shortly, Eponin. You might have hit her a little harder than you did when you were practicing. She has some bruises there, and didn't you say she had reverted to the drug haze? That would add to her unconscious state." Gabrielle looked as if she needed as much reassurance as the Amazon warrior. Frieda smiled at her and patted her hand. "Don't worry, Gabrielle."

"I can't help it. Frieda, you don't realize how rare this is for me to see Xena unconscious. Except for lately, that is. I, well, this is not like her."

"Gabrielle, these are very unusual circumstances. I wish there was a simple answer. I wonder if there isn't more going on than drugs in her blood. They should be long gone by now."

"Gab? You here?" the soft voice shivered her soul as the blue eyes smiled at her.

"Xena, are you all right? I was so worried." Gabrielle helped Xena to sit up.

"Hmm, whoa, Eponin you are getting good." The Warrior Princess swayed as she sat up with the bard's help.

"Circe's Circles, Xena! You scared me silly." Eponin came over and knelt by Xena.

Xena looked into the sorrowful face of her friend, saw the tears and worry etched into her attractive face. She reached out a hand to touch Eponin's cheek. "I am sorry Eponin, did I lose control? What happened?"

"I messed up Xena, I got mad and cut open your eye, then suddenly you launched yourself at me and I thought you were just angry and fighting harder until you called me Stephanos. Then I used those pressure points you showed me. But goddess, Xena when I saw that your nose was bleeding all I could think of was hearing you tell guys they would die unless you undid the move. You did not show me how to undo it and I thought I had killed you."

Xena reached up with her right hand and covered her face, massaging her temples as she did. Gabrielle touched her arm and said, "Xena?"

Xena looked up at her bard, letting her hand drift down and stroke her jaw thoughtfully. "I think I see what happened. When this cut bled into my eye  I saw red and it reminded me of the day I killed Stephanos. I was no longer fighting Eponin but a mortal enemy who had tortured me. I lost sight of reality." She looked again at Eponin who looked as if she could take no more. "Ep, you did nothing wrong. I am glad you remembered to use the move to save yourself. Are you all right? Did I hurt you?"

"I am fine, Galloping Gorgons, Xena. It was bad enough that I thought you were dead but all I could think was Gabrielle would kill me for sure." The assembled group indulged in some much needed laughter.

Xena was fine now and she got up to go catch some fish for supper for this group of women. But when she returned she found only Gabrielle. "Where is everyone?" she asked her bard.

"I sent them home Xena."

The Warrior Princess looked panicked for a moment. "But Gab, you should not be here alone with me."

"Why not, Xena? Are you going to hurt me?" Asked Gabrielle in a challenging voice.

Puzzled by Gabrielle's attitude, Xena put the fish down near the fire and came over to her bard. She sat down and looked questioningly into her eyes. "Gabrielle? Why are you doing this? Please don't stay, I don't want to hurt you."

"Then you won't will you, Xena?" said the bard firmly. She moved closer to the Warrior Princess until their shoulders were touching. "Xena, I think you have had your way too much. Now you are going to have to work harder."

"No! You don't understand." Xena stood up and began to pace.

"Oh, but I do, Xena. Now we are going to do this my way. Yours does not seem to be working. Brute strength and exercise is not the answer. You need a plan."

"I don't want you risking yourself, Gabrielle."

"I don't care what you want Xena, this is the way we are going to do it. Maybe we should have done this a lot sooner." The caring bard got up and came over to her warrior, putting her hands on Xena's shoulders she looked into her eyes and said, "Now here is what we are going to do. When you get these mad urges, you have to fight them. You have been surrounding yourself with warriors and people who you think can handle it, or else you run away to be by yourself. That is the problem, you have been avoiding fighting this."

Xena looked beseechingly into the blue-gray eyes of her best friend. Then she smiled and chucked her under the chin. "You are so feisty."

"Xena, I am serious here. You will try harder if you are worried about hurting me."

"I know I will, Gab, but this is not something I can control. It is drugs in my blood."

"Xena, I am not so sure it is. It has been over a moon now, the drugs should be gone."

"I don't understand it either, Gabrielle, but we can try it your way. I will try very hard. I promise you."

The bard smiled and hugged her warrior. "Good, now let's cook that fish, I'm starved."

That night as they lay together under a starry sky Gabrielle felt hopeful. It was almost enough just being with her warrior again, whatever the risks. That Xena would allow it showed they were making progress. She was smiling as she fell asleep. Xena took a lot longer to succumb to the arms of Morpheus. She was happy to have Gabrielle lying next to her once more, but she was anxious. She went over the past moon in her mind, trying to discover a reason for her continued attacks of violent madness. None of her healing knowledge dealt with this kind of trouble. The muscles in her neck were paining her more than usual. She checked that Gabrielle was truly asleep and got up to get her lineament. As she rubbed some into her neck muscles she thought about Eponin and smiled. 'Alecto's Alchemy!' as she once heard Ep say, 'that Amazon was a fast learner.' Xena thought Eponin would make a great partner in battle. She thought about fighting with Ep as she fell asleep.

Within a candle mark Xena was thrashing and mumbling in her nightmare. Her movements woke Gabrielle who sat up and looked to see what the trouble was. She recognized Xena's nightmare almost immediately as the Warrior Princess began clawing at her neck and swearing. "Xena, it is only a dream, Xena?" Gabrielle tried to calm her savage warrior with her softly spoken words. After a quarter candle mark she realized she needed to wake Xena from this vision of horror. She gently shook Xena's shoulders. Xena sat up and backhanded the bard. With the impact of her hand to Gabrielle's face Xena came fully awake. She scrambled to her feet and faced the bard. Garbielle recovered from her shock swiftly seeing she must defend herself. 'Oh goddess!' she thought as she faced the snarling Warrior Princess. She snatched up her staff, it's length giving her an edge over the unarmed warrior. Xena rushed her and Gabrielle swung the staff hard, but hit nothing. Her warrior jumped over her head and shoved her from behind with her down-thrusting feet. Xena had trained Gabrielle well, however, the bard somersaulted to regain her feet. She turned and intercepted Xena's next move with her staff to Xena's knees. She caught her unexpectedly just in the right place. Xena went down in great pain. But her madness and strength were not gone, she grabbed the bard, getting Gabrielle's calves. The young woman fell hard, and rolled onto her back to fend off Xena. The Warrior Princess painfully pulled her way up Gabrielle's body till she half straddled the bard's hips. Gabrielle had really damaged Xena's knee and she could not bend it. The pain fueled her anger and madness. She put her hands around the bard's throat and squeezed. The move was so unlike Xena that Gabrielle did not respond right away. As she began to black out she felt her staff in her hand. She swung up and hit Xena in the side of the face. The pain and confusion that resulted made Xena remove one hand from Gabrielle's throat and put it to her own head. Gabrielle slipped loose and sat up groggily. She pushed Xena off her hips and crawled out of range. Xena lay where she landed, not unconscious, but stunned and confused. She looked at the sky and the stars and wondered why she was on the ground. Suddenly a shooting star made its way across the sky.

"Look, Gabrielle, a shooting star. Make a wish." Gabrielle was struck dumb by this simple, almost childlike, sentence. She had just barely escaped without serious injury fighting her warrior. She wondered if Xena had gone completely mad.

"I wish you had never met Stephanos," Gabrielle said bitterly. That sentence got through to the Warrior Princess. It made a cruel sort of sense. Xena felt the words in her chest. She felt so heavy, in heart and body. She lay on the ground until sleep claimed her. The evening breeze dried her tears.

Gabrielle sadly returned to her bedroll and tried to sleep. Maybe she had been wrong to think she could help Xena. It had made sense to her earlier. But now she saw that Xena was not rational when under the influence, she knew no one, and saw only threats. Gabrielle was sore and heartsick. She loved Xena so but just for a moment she wanted to pretend she did not know her, did not have to face the darkness so often. The breeze dried her tears as well.

Despite her injuries, Xena woke first, as usual. Her knee was swollen and very painful. She needed to put some cold compresses on it. Her head was pounding. She wish she could remember exactly what had happened. She looked around for Gabrielle. Her bard was still asleep, but as she was facing the Warrior Princess her bruised face and neck were visible. 'No, Gabrielle! Oh goddess, what have I done now?' She reached out futiley to her young friend. Then a look of determination filled her face. 'There is only one thing left I can think of to do.' She reached between her breasts and pulled out her small dagger and sliced a vein in her left wrist. She held up her arm and let the blood drip to the ground. She watched her life's blood drain away as she waited for the bard to waken.

She lost herself in observing the red liquid as it ran down her hand and onto the ground. In the gray light of dawn it's dark color seemed emphasized. 'My dark blood,' she thought, beginning to feel lightheaded, but sure this was not enough, she took out her dagger again. So engrossed was she that she did not hear or notice when Gabrielle regained consciousness. The bard woke to the sight of her warrior slashing the other wrist.

"Xena! No!" She ran to her and fought for the dagger. Xena dropped the knife with little struggle. "Gab? It's alright. I am not killing myself, I am just letting the bad blood out. I can't let it hurt you anymore. " The bemused and weakened warrior said softly. She smiled and closed her eyes.

Gabrielle shook her, "Xena stay with me, please." She looked desperately around for something to tie off the bleeding wrists. She got up and rummaged for some bandages in their pack. She came back and bandaged each wrist tightly. Then she surveyed her despairing warrior. Blood was seemingly everywhere. It had run down Xena's arms, splashed on her legs and chest as they had struggled briefly for the knife. Gabrielle's face crumpled and she took Xena into her arms and held her close, her heart still thumping from the fright of her love killing herself so casually.  "Don't ever leave me this way, Xena."

It was an effort, but Xena opened her eyes and said weakly, "I wasn't leaving you, Gab, I was bleeding the ill humors from my body. Exercise is not enough."

"No, Xena, you were killing yourself. You went too far, look at how weak you are. Tartarus! Xena, how could you be so dumb?"

"Awe, Gab, I am too tired for this now, let's sleep."

"No, you need to drink something first."

"Oh, yeah, water will do."

"Xena, surely something more to bring your strength back."

"If we had some port that would help, look in my saddle bag."

Gabrielle returned with a wineskin of port. She made Xena drink all of it. In her weakened condition the Warrior Princess was soon drunk. She was amorous but uncoordinated, finally she collapsed in Gabrielle's arms. The bard allowed herself a small smile, looking down at her warrior panther, weak as a kitten. She kissed Xena on the forehead and said "sleep now, my love."

Xena opened one eye and said, "I would never leave you, my bard, I love ..." and passed out.

Gabrielle settled her warrior comfortably on her bed roll, and went for some water to bathe the blood away and to make a cool compress for that knee. The time for tears was passed. Gabrielle gritted her teeth and did what needed doing. Her warrior lay limply and damaged, she reminded her bard of a broken toy soldier left overnight in the mud. She washed away the blood and memories of the night. Then she wrapped a wet bandage around the knee. Xena slept for four candle marks. Gabrielle kept refreshing the cool bandage on the knee, watching as the swelling slowly subsided. She marveled at Xena's swift recuperative ability yet it only emphasized the mysterious lack of recovery from the influence of the drugs.

At last Xena woke up. Gabrielle was nodding off at her side. "Gabrielle?"

"Oh, Xena, you are awake," said the surprised bard. The pained look in Xena's eyes scared the bard. "Xena, what is it? Are you in pain?"

"Oh, Gabrielle," she said reaching out to touch the bard's bruised face, "I am so sorry, can you forgive me? I don't even remember what happened last night."

"I know, Xena. It was very scary. I could see what your enemies see when they face you."

"Goddess forgive me, Gabrielle, I never wanted you to see that. Did I hurt you badly?"

"No, Xena, I think I hurt you worse. Look at your knee. The swelling has gone down but it was huge this morning. You also have a black eye."


"Xena, why are you laughing?"

"Oh, come on, Gab, you have to see this as funny. Your Amazons are going to be so proud of you defeating the wicked Warrior Princess."

"Oh Xena, you are not a wicked ..." her voice trailed of as she realized that Xena was precisely that.

"Yes, Gabrielle, I see you recognize the truth at last," Xena said sadly.
  Scene X

After a quick meal of bread and cheese, Xena took Gabrielle's staff on one side and the bard's shoulder on the other to help her make her painful way to the Amazon village. They were halfway down the mountain when they were met by Eponin. "Eponin, what are you doing here?" asked the Amazon Queen of her subject.

"I, um..." She looked at the Warrior Princess, standing with her arm over Gabrielle's shoulders, obviously not herself, and went on to say, "I felt uncomfortable leaving my job unfinished." Xena smiled at the Amazon Warrior, relieving that trepidatious woman.

"Good for you, Ep," said the Warrior Princess. Eponin noticed the bandages on her wrists and knee, and the bruises on both of them, but said nothing.

Simultaneously Gabrielle said, "Thanks Eponin, I am glad you came back. Please help me with Xena, she is not strong right now."

Eponin took Xena's other arm and they made a quicker journey down to the village. It was dark when they arrived in the Amazon village. They took Xena right to the infirmary. Ama and Frieda were both there talking to an older Amazon Gabrielle had never seen before. At their entrance the three women came over and helped Xena to a bed.

"My Queen, this is Athea, she was my teacher and one of the finest healers I know." Gabrielle graciously took the hand of the healer and told her she was delighted to meet her.

"Maybe you can help us." She asked, indicating Xena with her head.  The exhausted Warrior Princess was already asleep. The three healers worked on her knee and rebandaged the wrists. When that was done, Gabrielle took Athea aside and quickly recounted Xena's traumatic time with Stephanos and what Delia and Frieda had said were the drugs Stephanos had used. She told the older healer what had happened since, including the recent bloodletting.  The woman looked at Xena's wrists, felt the pulse in her neck and then smelled her fingertips where she had touched Xena's neck. She rubbed her fingers together to warm the stickiness on her hands, and smelled it again.

"Gabrielle, what does she have on her neck?" she said turning to the bard.
Gabrielle looked puzzled.

"You mean those scars? That was from the hideous collar I was telling you about."

"No, I mean she has some salve on her neck."

Eponin had not left the infirmary. She leaned forward now and smelled Xena's neck and touched it and smelled her hand. "Um, I think I know."

They all turned to Eponin."

"The other night after she fell under the downed tree, you know Gabrielle, when the lightening struck?" She turned to the Amazon Queen who nodded. "Well, that night I noticed that her shoulder was developing a wicked bruise and I asked her if she had some lineament. She gave me this jar of stuff that smells like that."

Athea began to smile, she turned to Frieda, "You said he used wormwood and deadly nightshade on her?" Frieda nodded.

"What is it? Do you know what the problem is?" asked Gabrielle.

"Yes, I think so, I thought you said Xena was sort of a healer too."

"Yes she is, I have never met anyone quite like her."

"Hmm, well she should have known better," said the older healer.

"What are you saying?" asked Gabrielle.

"And you two should have recognized it too." Athea said as she turned to the Amazon healers.

Ama and Frieda came over and smelled Xena's neck. Ama straightened up and said, "Oh goddess, she has been using wolf bane in her lineament. That can cause hallucinations when mixed with deadly nightshade."

"But it is good for a lineament because it is an anti-inflammatory and numbs the pained area. But, oh my, yes, it is absorbed through the skin and it would make her so much more susceptible to those horrible flashbacks from her trauma," said Frieda.

"So what are you all saying?" pleaded the bard.

Athea turned to the Amazon Queen, "Your majesty, Xena has been poisoning herself with wolf bane, and perpetuating her troubles. Once she stops using this lineament and after a session in the sweat lodge she should be as good as new."

"Oh thank you," Gabrielle cried as she threw herself into the healer's arms. Athea laughed and hugged her young queen. Suddenly Gabrielle's joy diminished, "but wait, Xena's trouble right now is her knee and her slit wrists. She has lost too much blood, what can you do about that?"

"Why did she slit her own wrists? Was she in that much despair?" asked Athea.

"I thought so, but she said she was bleeding the ill humors out of her body."

"Actually, Gabrielle, that is not such a crazy idea as it sounds. I know many healers who bleed their patients. I don't think it does anything but weaken the patients, yet it is common practice. But don't worry, she is a fine specimen of a woman, I am sure she has lost more blood in battle than she drained herself. She will be fine with feeding and lots of liquids. You just need to pamper her for a few days. Think you can stand to do that?"

Gabrielle laughed, as did the rest of the women. Eponin looked down at the sleeping Warrior Princess, already missing her days in the mountains.
  Scene XI

Xena slowly surfaced into consciousness with the feeling of gentle hands bathing her neck with a warm cloth. Knowing by the fragrance of sunny flowers she associated with her love, that it was her bard cleaning her neck, she took the hand in hers without opening her eyes and kissed the back of it sensuously. But the gasp that accompanied her actions did not come from Gabrielle. Xena's eye flew open to see a laughing Gabrielle and a shocked Delia. Her bard's laughter prompted her own. Xena let out the first belly laugh since she had been darted by Celeus at the behest of Stephanos. Gabrielle's face lighted up with joy at the sound. Slowly Delia joined in as her vivid blush faded. Since her task of washing the salve off Xena's neck was accomplished Delia left the two women together.

Xena watched her go and turned to her bard, "what was that for?"

"Welcome back, Xena, the mystery has been solved."

"It has? What mystery?" she asked her soulmate, smiling into her blue-gray eyes.

"You were so tired maybe you don't remember the old healer that was here when we came in, but she knew why you were continuing to have hallucinations and uncontrollable flashbacks."

"Yes I remember seeing her but I guess I faded out before you spoke. How did she know?"

"She smelled your neck and recognized the herb you had used in your lineament."

"You mean wolf bane? So?"

"Apparently when you mix wolf bane and deadly nightshade you get hallucinations and a lost feeling, disorientation, even a feeling of flying, did you feel that? Your lineament was making it worse, setting you up for reliving your trauma when the situation was just right."

"Goddess, how could I have been so foolish?" Remorse showing plainly on her face.

"Well, it is over now, Xena, in no time you will be yourself again." Gabrielle beamed at her friend.

Gabrielle's sunny disposition and joy at solving the mystery did not dissipate the clouds from Xena's stormy life. Xena knew merely being herself again was not enough. Still, she said nothing and allowed her bard to feed and pamper her over the next few days as she tried to hide her inner turmoil.

When her knee and wrists were healed and the black eye only a memory Xena was persuaded to undergo the purification ceremony. Because it was important to her bard, Xena acquiesced.
  Scene XII - The Purification

She was unbearably hot. This preview of Tartarus made her flesh pour fourth rivers of poisons. The sweat lodge of the Amazons gave the Warrior Princess the opportunity to purify her body. Xena's mind floated aimlessly as her still body oozed evil essences. Gabrielle's warrior realized she needed to gather her thoughts and focus on each incident since she was captured by Stephanos the second time. 'Hades Helpmate! I wish I could remember more.'

Ephiny entered the sweat lodge as appointed. Hers was the first round of the purification ceremony which meant beating the warrior's nude body with rushes to prepare her for the next stage. The Amazon regent wore a light, short shift allowing her to perform her duty without exhausting herself unduly from the heat. She approached Xena's prone body on the pallet. Xena's flesh glistened, her tanned body looking like burnished copper in the reflected glow of the brazier. Ephiny took a moment and admired the beauty of the Warrior Princess before beginning. Her form and the delicate texture of the woman's skin made Ephiny pause about striating that fine pelt. The Amazon's first task was to pour water over the hot rocks, evincing a huge cloud of steam which prickled her scalp immediately and coated her body with vapor. The hiss alerted Xena of Ephiny's approach. She steeled her body for the blows. Ephiny struck the soles of her feet first, working her way north. The sting and pressure of the beating accompanied by the opening of her pores by the steam increased the speed and extent of her blood circulation. Suddenly the lethargy of the heat was reversed. She felt powerful and alive. Tartarus, she felt like singing, her nightmares and tired thoughts flown.

Ephiny observed the pinking of the warrior and knew that Xena would soon be ready for the next challenge of the ritual. After she administered the last strokes to Xena's shoulders, she lay aside the rushes. She touched Xena's cheek to alert her to the next stage. Xena rose and watched as Ephiny went to the shelf and removed a thin leather tunic for the Warrior Princess to put on. She held the garment over her head as Xena moved under it. She lowered and smoothed the tunic over Xena's form and stepped back. Taking a leather thong from the shelf she stepped behind the warrior and tied her hair back. Ephiny bowed to the Warrior Princess and left the lodge. Xena faced the door and awaited her next partner in purification.

Eponin stepped through the door. Like Xena she was dressed in a short leather tunic. She guided the Warrior Princess to the center of the lodge where there was a small circle created by stones set into the earthen floor. Four friendly warriors could stand within its circumference. Here she placed Xena and admonished her not to exit the circle for any reason. Eponin went back to the shelf and removed a dark brown leather hood. This she placed over Xena's head effectively blinding her and making location of sounds difficult. The hood flared widely at the base allowing sufficient air for breathing. Then she left the lodge to call her cohorts in suspense to join her in stimulating Xena's senses and reflexes.

Xena shifted her weight to the balls of her feet, every sense alert. She calmed her breathing to allow her hearing to focus. The heat provided distracting tickles of sweat. Her blindness was a warm darkness. Her back prickled, the hairs on her arms and neck stood up like whiskers on a cat. She strained to detect the stealthy movements of Amazon warriors. Suddenly a slight disturbance in the air alerted her, she ducked and reached up to grab a warrior's arm and flip her over and out of the circle. She was rewarded by a soft "ooff" as the Amazon landed on the ground. No time to smile, for here came another. This warrior came in low, trying to dislodge Xena from the circle. The Warrior Princess heard the swish of the swing and jumped above the threat. As she landed she kicked out and her foot met the jaw of her opponent. Xena was surprised by how well she could hear despite the hood. The supposedly silent warriors surrounding her could not suppress all their sighs and exclamations of surprise at the swift responses and tricky mid-air maneuvers of which Xena was capable. She cycled through the Amazon challengers, fending off their attacks very thoroughly. One enterprising warrior, and she suspected it was Eponin, managed to breach her defensive reflexes. This warrior landed a body blow and with the momentum almost toppled Xena out of the circle. At the last moment, Xena became an oak, and stopped rigidly on the very edge of the circle. The attacker impacted and slide down Xena's body as if she had indeed hit a tree. Overall the Warrior Princess did well, by the end of three quarters of a candle mark the Amazon warriors were all gasping and Xena had only sustained three blows. But the time was up, so Eponin called it and removed Xena's hood. Her light blue eyes very quickly adapted to the darkened lodge to find herself surrounded by seven weary warriors. She bowed to each in turn, observing their bruises and flushed faces. Her own was shining with sweat, but she was beaming, not tired at all. Her dark hair was spiky and added to the bristling demeanor of this impressive, non-Amazon warrior. The warriors filed out, save Eponin.

Eponin went to the shelf and brought down a small pallet, about the width of a saddle. She lay it at Xena's feet in the circle and bade her kneel. Then the Amazon placed a yoke on Xena's shoulders and piled weights of river rocks into the baskets that rose above the wooden contraption. She left the lodge.

Xena waited. The heat continued to make the purification a trial. She had fasted for two days prior to the purification ceremony and since it began at dawn she had taken nothing to drink. Her body had been shedding water and impurities at a constant rate. Her efforts and the various sensory stimulations had further depleted her energy. Now she felt light-headed and the weight on her shoulders and pressure to her back challenged her to maintain her place within the small circle. The heat seemed to be intensifying. Her breathing became labored.

Then Gabrielle entered the lodge. A cool breeze heralded her approach. Following the ritual she poured water over the hot brazier sending a painful wave of vapor to torment the warrior. As she watched, Xena seemed to sag under this onslaught. Gabrielle wanted so much to go to her and tell her she had done enough, but she knew that Xena was doing more than fulfilling an Amazon ritual. Her aim here was true purification of her body. If not her soul. For now Gabrielle's part was that very soul. While Ephiny had charged Xena's body with energy, and Eponin had tried to drain it, Gabrielle now strove to refill this vessel with a renewed soul. First the demons must be discovered and revealed, then the healing confessions and self-forgiveness could commence. As her words must be answered, Gabrielle held a cup of cool water to Xena's lips to quench that parched throat. The Warrior Princess drank greedily, spilling on her chin and chest. Gabrielle smiled and tenderly wiped the dampness from her soulmate's skin. The bard's touch to Xena's sensitive skin was like the tongue of a venomous snake tasting its prey. The Warrior Princess felt as vulnerable to her Gabrielle as a cringing mouse to the snake's shimmering shadow in the dessert. Yet the bard saw a powerful wild animal, muscles bunched and glistening.

Xena's vulnerability was not fear, it was the sheer openness of her soul and happiness to her bard's control. It was also total trust. Xena faced her greatest challenge of this purification. She had long trained her body to withstand all tortures and hardships, but her mind and inner self had always been safely hidden from all, save Gabrielle, the one person in her adult life that Xena had ever let in, let see the core, see the tender woundable Xena. That Xena was now Gabrielle's to save or sunder from sanity forever.

The Warrior Princess watched her soulmate as she returned the ladle to the water bucket and began a leisurely pace around Xena's captive circle. Her bard had grown and matured over the years they had been together. Her compact body now sported well developed muscles which her leather Amazon outfit enhanced. The heat of the lodge added the same sparkle to her skin that sheened the warrior's. Xena smiled with a powerful charm as she waited for Gabrielle to meet her eyes. The weight on her shoulders seemed forgotten in the pleasurable basking in her soulmate's presence. Xena was eager to hear the bard's soothing voice begin the search for her soul.

Gabrielle carefully observed her love as she wandered. Her gaze took in the raw power of her warrior, yet she noted the trembling of the forearms where they rested on Xena's upper thighs. The weight of those river stones must be considerable. Yet as she watched, Xena settled her shoulders and became totally still and watchful, alert to Gabrielle. The bard took a deep breath and felt the searing heat of the room enter her lungs. She exhaled as deeply, took a smaller cooler breath, and began.

"My Warrior, are you ready to answer my questions?" she asked, smiling gently at Xena as she came around again to the front of her warrior.

"Yes, my bard," the warrior as softly answered.

"Xena, it is important that you answer truthfully, to the best of your ability. Part of this purification ceremony is to bring you to a state of honesty within yourself. Your answers should pour forth without a lot of thought because it is necessary to tap your core for the truth."

"I understand Gabrielle, I will be honest."

"I am not doubting your willingness to be honest, Xena, only your ability. I think you have been hiding things from yourself. I hope by now you will recognize some of these truths." Xena wrinkled her brow at this. Gabrielle saw the confusion as she began a measured pace around the Warrior Princess. Her questions were designed to bring forth the deeper truths.

"Xena, what did Stephanos do to you?" She fired off.

Xena closed her eyes, becoming dizzy from trying to follow her bard as she walked around her. Maybe the dizziness was partly from the anger that rose up as she remembered the torture she had undergone: the wicked collar that had sent spines loaded with deadly nightshade into her neck, the wrist restraints that did the same. "He tortured me, Gabrielle." She ground out between her teeth.

"I know Xena, I know what he actually did to you physically, but what did that do to you mentally?" Gabrielle tried to keep her voice calm at the sound of pain and anger in her warrior's voice. "How did that make you feel?"

"I felt angry, and humiliated, and .... and frustrated."

"Is that all?" The bard persisted, wanting more, wanting to get deeper into how Xena really felt, not just the obvious.

"All! All, Gabrielle? That was a lot, not many have done that to me." Her voice rose with her ire.

"Who else, Xena?"

"What do you mean, who else?"

"I mean, who else has done that to you?"

"Caesar! That bastard did it to me! He betrayed me and made me hate myself for being so vulnerable, for trusting when I knew better." Her voice rose in her agitation. Despite the pain, Gabrielle smiled to herself, she knew they were finally getting somewhere.

"So Stephanos accomplished what Caesar had. How interesting."

"Interesting, you find that interesting? Gabrielle, do you know the curse of Chin? It says 'may you live in interesting times'!" Xena was shouting now.

Eponin and Ephiny had been passing the sweat lodge just then and they looked at each other. "Zeal of the Zephyr, it is working!" Eponin said, smiling at the regent.

"And do you, Xena? Is your life interesting?"

"You know it is, Gabrielle."

"So let me see if I understand you then. By torturing you, Stephanos made you feel betrayed? He made you hate yourself? Why didn't you hate him?"

"I did, Gabrielle, that is why I cut off his head."

"But you never cut off the head of Caesar."

"No." The Warrior Princess mumbled.

"What did you do to Caesar?"

"Nothing ... then."

"Why not, Xena?" The bard pushed.

"Because I couldn't! I was a cripple. I ran away to the land of Chin and vented my anger on humanity." She shouted, then controlled herself, she stopped, closed her eyes and took a breath. "Gabrielle, you know all this," she finished in a calmer tone.

"Yes I do, Xena, but I need you to explain to me how this was like Caesar, and how you got over Caesar. Can this work for you now?"

"No, oh Gabrielle, you are wasting your time. It took me a lifetime to get beyond Caesar, you know that."

"Do you need another lifetime to get beyond Stephanos?"

"I don't know." She hung her head as she whispered these words. Gabrielle heard her but made her say it again.

"What? I did not hear you?" She poured more water on the hot stones and the heat rose in the lodge.

Xena's head snapped up and she yelled, "I don't know!"

"Yes you do. You are the only one who knows." Gabrielle resumed her pacing around Xena, knowing it annoyed the warrior.

"Gabrielle, I became the Destroyer of Nations because of Caesar!"

"Hahahahaaha. And are you going to go raise an army now?" Gabrielle said this, hating herself for taunting her warrior, but knowing it was the only way to make Xena see.

"Don't laugh at me, Gabrielle." Xena said in a very cold, low voice.

"Then don't be foolish. Answer me!" Gabrielle replied tersely.

"No!" shouted the exasperated warrior.

"No, you are not going to answer me, or no you are not going to raise an army?"

"No I am not going to raise an army."

"Why not, Xena? What is different this time?"

"Gabrielle, I am older, I know better, and I have you," she said in a tired voice.

"Exactly!" Gabrielle said triumphantly.

"What?" asked the bewildered warrior.

"Xena, you know better and you have me. That is exactly what I wanted you to realize."

"But Gab... I knew that all along."

"Did you? Then what does that mean? What does having me mean?"

"I... I, maybe I don't have you. That is my fear. I am afraid I will drive you away."

"Am I here?" Gabrielle said, planting herself squarely in front of Xena, reaching forward to wipe the sweat from her brow before it ran into those icy blue eyes.

"Yes, but for how long?" Said the Warrior Princess, looking up into her bard's face.

The look in those eyes wrung Gabrielle's heart. She fell to her knees and took Xena's fair face between her hands and kissed her lightly on the mouth. She pulled back and said, "For always."

Xena's face crumpled and the tears slowly fell. Her shoulders sagged and three rocks fell out of the right-hand basket. Gabrielle jumped back to avoid the stones. Her retreat was a signal to Xena. Xena stopped looking at the bard for a moment and surrendered to the weights on her shoulders. The pain of the weight on aching muscles reminded her of the pull on her shoulders when she was chained and dragged behind the cage by Stephanos, when she had only her Gabrielle's memory to keep her focused, to help her stay in control. She trembled from the remembered pain and the real pain now. She stood and threw off the weights. Her surge to her feet and the rumble of the tumbling rocks scared the bard who  backed further away from the rising warrior. The Warrior Princess looked at Gabrielle and opened her heart. "Gabrielle, I have no right to have you by my side. I have not learned enough. I allowed Stephanos to reduce me to the savage I once was. I should have known better."
"Xena, you are too hard on yourself. I know that was not you. That was the drugs."

Xena wiped the tears from her face, but could not erase the sadness so easily. "Gabrielle, I love your faith in me, but it is misplaced. I have to admit it, I can no longer hide it. What I remember about my drugged state under the control of Stephanos makes me cringe. The warlord I once was might have admired my brutality and bloodletting, but the hero you would have me be is ashamed. I know you think I was not to blame for my actions under the influence of deadly nightshade and wormwood, but I am. I know that if I did not care so deeply what you think I would not be thinking twice about this savagery. It was as natural to me as skinning eels is to a fisherman. My remorse comes from my desire to hide this fact from you, and more so to hide it from myself. Maybe that is why I subconsciously dosed myself with the wolf bane. I needed to hide."

Gabrielle had come close to her warrior as she talked, She placed her hand on Xena's warm shoulder and said, "Xena, your methods may have been savage, but you are good. I would not be with you if I did not believe that. You have shown me over and over how important it is to fight for the greater good. You can not deny this now. I have too much evidence to dispute it."

"Oh Gabrielle, I panicked when I realized you forgave me because you did not hold me accountable for my actions. But Gabrielle, I am accountable. I always have been, I always will be. I am a savage warrior, that is a fact that will never change. That is my reality."

"No Xena, listen to me. What is reality but how we each perceive life. We share this life, and even if we do not share the same vision, it works for each of us within our differences. I love you, Xena. I know you better than you know yourself, and I am here to help you face each day, in whatever guise it takes. If you want to make my reality your own, I will help you achieve that. But Xena, even if you choose your own reality, I will still love you, and I will help us reconcile that reality so we may both be happy."

"Will you be my conscience then, Gab?"

"Xena, I will be whatever you need, always, for without you, my life is meaningless."

Xena smiled at that.  A broad, beaming smile. The one that lights her face and her bard's heart, the one that once shone out over a crowded slave market and silenced the masses, the one that epitomizes joy. The bard's answering smile welled warmly from her own heart.

The warrior and her bard rose from the hot, dusty floor and left the sweat lodge arm in arm. As the evening breeze cooled their sweaty skin, Gabrielle shivered. The Warrior Princess put her arm around her bard's shoulder and led Gabrielle to the hot springs. They stripped and slipped into the bubbling water as the evening hues with which Helios painted the land lit their loving faces with a golden light. Xena sighed deeply and turned to her bard, gifting her with another smile of such joy and happiness it left Gabrielle almost as breathless as the kiss which followed.
  The End  

Eponin's Euphemisms

Alecto's Alchemy (One of the three Furies
Aphrodite's Arrows (goddess of love)
Ares' Ass (god of war)
Atropos' Antics (Crone of the three Fates, cuts life's threads)
Clio's Crotch (One of the nine muses -History)
Clotho's Connections (Maiden of the three Fates, spinner of the threads)
Galloping Gorgons (3 dragonlike creatures whose look turns one to stone, Medusa was one)
Hades' Helmet (god of the underworld, king of the dead)
Hera's Hemicranias (Sister and wife to Zeus [hemicranis are severe headaches, later known as migraines])
Hestia's Herpes (Virgin goddess of the hearth, and Zeus' sister)
Lachrymose Lachesis (Middle Fate, the woman [lachrymose is tearful] disposer of lots, assigned destiny)
Miserable Minotaurs (the bull headed guardian of the labryinthe)
Murmuring Medea (A maiden magician who fell in love wiht Jason)
Polyhymnia's Poetry (One of the nine muses-song)
Poseidon's Prod (God of the sea)
Sphincter of a Sphinx (mythical creature half woman half winged lion, riddled her victims before eating them)
Streams of Styx (River of the unbreakable oath).
Suffering Sisyphus (Sisyphus was condemned to roll a stone uphill forever)
Thalia's Tears (One of the nine muses-comedy)
Tiptoes of Terpsichore (One of the nine muses-dance)
Tisiphone's Tantrums (One of three Furies)
Vulcan's Vertigo (Roman god of the forge and fire -- Hephaestus is the Greek name)
A cubit is about a foot and a half.

More Eponisms

Ares' Affectations (God of war, affectations are artificial acts of behavior, poses)
Circe in Circles (Beautiful witch who turned men into beasts)
Cybele's Cymbals (Phrygin Goddess priests heralded with drums and cymbals)
Gaea's Gaiety (Mother Earth)
Galloping Goddesses (Self explantory)
Griffin's Grief (The hounds of Zeus, they had the body of a lion and the wings and head of an eagle)
Hades Hatred (Lord of the underworld)
Hasty Hermes (Messenger of the gods)
Hippolyta's Hilarity (Stolen from the Amazons by Theseus, King of Athens)
Hot Hephaestus (The god of fire)
Hydra's Headaches (Seven-headed monster)
Idiocy of Icarus ( Icarus, son of Daedalus who created the Labyrinthe, they made wings to fly out when imprisoned there, the son flew too close to the sun and his wings melted, he fell into the sea and drowned)
Ladon's Laughter (serpent who guarded the golden apples)
Melpomene's Memories (Muse of Tragedy)
Malevolent Moira (Moira is fate)
Moping Mopsus (Soothsayer of the Argonauts)
Peitho's Prattle (Goddess of Persuasion)
Succumb to Sirens (Sirens are the enchanted singers who lured sailors to their deaths on their island's rocky shores)
Trails of Tartarus (Tartarus is the underworld)
Trivia's Trails (The three roads, Hecate, goddess of crossroads)
Tyche's Turnabout (Goddess of Fortune)
Zeal of Zephyr (Zephyr is the west wind)

A league is about three miles

A chain is 66 feet
  Comments welcome, email MythM42@aol.com  

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